A Braid Backlash?

Everyone’s talking Braid, huh? Incredible, incredible praise has been heaped upon the game, and even before its release, the game and its maker were often both heralded as the Indie Saviour (if you don’t mind the term): Two years before its release(!), Braid received the IGF 2006 “Innovation in Game Design” award.

Braid was a long time coming, and when it came, it was nothing short of veni, vidi and vici - Braid delivered. But even the best of games sometimes receive an ounce of backlash - remember the Gears of War commentary from Mike Capps or Alain Tascan? - It’s as though all memetic excellent games receive a hint of backlash sooner or later, just like all good memes turn sour with overexposure, and begs, in my mind, to be presented by applying Leigh Alexander’s (of Sexy Videogameland and Gamasutra) four-month bell curve: “fever-backlash-bottom-out”. The timeframe remains to be seen and discovered, of course…

If you’re interested in analysis on the design of the game, you could take a gander at a very thoughtfully analytic discussion over at The Brainy Gamer. But what about the merits of the game - outside the box?Before I go any further, I would like to say that although we would love to play the game right now, sadly none of us here at the Slowdown - including Mr. Scary and Mr. Burney - have access to a 360 and the XBLA, so theoretically you are absolutely free to cry “hypocrite” or some such thing as you please in the comments box.

Nevertheless, I would like to mention a few things in this short (and compulsory) message about Braid; Not of Braid the game, but of Braid the phenomenon. Is that acceptable? - - I’ll go ahead anyway. What would you think if I said that Braid - despite being heralded as the best thing since sliced bread - is actually not the solution, but part of the problem?

“But you haven’t even played the game!” I hear you all cry collectively. Yes, I’m yet to play the game, and believe you me, there’s little doubt in my mind that the game would not be worthy of the praise. That is a factor that simply does not even come to play.

Let me expound.

Braid is breakwater. Braid is a diversion. The game has firmly maintained its revered position in the utter whole of the indie scene since its first appearance back in 2005. Its developer Jonathan Blow is an authority, a figurehead. But let me ask you this, what will Braid do to our beloved indie gaming? This is the tip, the point: I fear it will do absolutely, absolutely nothing. On the contrary, I fear Braid is hazardous instead of healing.

Braid’s success - at the amazingly high, obnoxious budget of $180,000 that nearly bankrupted Blow - will not come to aid one single indie game at XBLA. With Microsoft’s machine firmly behind Braid, it will find its players. Other such games that might have been minor successes without Braid will now be hopelessly compared to it in unfavourable terms, and in the space where we could have discussed other games, we only spoke of Braid.

How many pages, exactly, has the Brainy Gamer dedicated to Braid? How many articles did mainstream press write on the game? How many times we laughed at the overexposure? Ten other articles - probably just as interesting - could have been written in their stead, another game given a short time in the limelight… sometimes a game or a movie (The Dark Knight anyone?) will capture the minds of a generation, and though Braid is still a long way to go in terms of exposition, I feel Braid will ultimately give to us too little and take away too much.

It may be the best platformer since Super Mario Galaxy, but I’ll be damned if it helps someone get their indie art game published!